Reception Date: 
Fri, 05/03/2013 - 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Show Date: 
Fri, 05/03/2013 - Sat, 06/01/2013
Of Common Ground: new work by Teresa Schmidt and Larry Roots

Of Common Ground
Teresa Schmidt, Larry Roots explore the fields of abstraction at MAM
- by Michael J. Krainak, free lance writer in the visual arts

The title of Modern Arts Midtown’s new two-person exhibit in May, "Of Common Ground", is a bit of a paradox. Because, there is nothing ordinary about the show’s style of choice, abstraction, which the featured artists, Teresa Schmidt and Larry Roots nonetheless have in common.
     “We both approach painting with no pre-conceived plan and arrive at our idea by reacting to the process,” said Roots, MAM’s owner and the show’s curator. “It is for us the line that is the most descriptive element in any given piece. We are of common ground but navigate diverse territories of expressionistic mark making.”
     Root’s description suggests that he and Schmidt, a professor of art at Kansas State University, approach their art as explorers, a demand that abstraction places on any serious artist working in this manner. Though viewers may be fond of seeing “things” in or interpreting abstract art based on something figurative or representational, what generally motivates this form of expression is seldom familiar or known "apriori". Yet, though these two artists share this style of painting, “in common”, this is where they draw the line.
     A simple comparison of their artist statements reveals much, their art much more. Schmidt, who creates large-scale drawings in graphite and intaglio as well as litho prints, loves “the spontaneity of gesture, so connected to impulse and intimacy…I find initial inspiration in nature and then experience the present moment through the work. I work through process to produce contrasts of line, tone and motion in search of an image I can identify with.”
     Which is to say, that for Schmidt, the exploration or journey is personal. Regardless of what inspires her in the natural or ordinary world, the search is within. The connection she makes is often emotional and psychological as she recently accomplished in her "Portal Series" of images, which allude to her parents’ death, both from brain cancer. Individual pieces such as “Frenzy” and “Reluctant Traveler” display the expected billowing emotions and pent-up anxiety of such an experience via an aesthetic that gives voice and catharsis.
     It is an aesthetic that is only marginally and ghostly identifiable enhanced by her signature use of washes, blind contour drawing and dense overlapping lines of seismic proportion, at times implosive and others virtually orgasmic. It must depend on her mood, one imagines, and her otherwise her current state of being, often revealed to her during the process itself. With this new series at MAM, "Of Land and Sea", it appears that Schmidt is seeking solace, at the very least escape, in nature with such works as “Rose Garden,” “Woodlands” and the aptly named “Teacher.”
     In this series the imagery varies from the delicate contours of such soulful pieces as “Rose Garden” to the denser, more atmospheric of the latter two with their "mise en scene" of fog, mist and the wildly verdant.
     While Schmidt’s mark making is generally more impulsive, organic and expressionistic, Roots has evolved as a postmodern neo-abstractionist. Meaning, that his own aesthetic is more experimental in form, medium and content. Uniting it all is his coda as artist, viewer and curator to use one’s senses for the purpose of insight rather than recognition. To that end his point of view is more detached and his search more metaphysical. Despite this, ironically, the search remains not merely a means to an end, but an end itself. He says, “If my art endures, it’s because it’s enigmatic. It’s never fully explainable.”
     A decade long retrospective in 2012 of Roots’ abstraction revealed his penchant for the philosophical in such work beginning with “Presence of Mind”(1999) to "Epistemology", a 2007 solo show to the more recent “Remains of the Day”(2009) and “Enough is Enough”(2010). Though he has and continues to experiment with landscape and the figurative, as seen in this show, his titles suggest concepts rather than representation. For example, he continues his "Head" series here, groups mostly, and calls one “The Gathering” as in the gathering of minds and two more gatherings, “Introductions” and “Group Decision.” In all, the imagery features floating heads, mouths agape, everyone talking, nobody listening, except to the sound of their voices.
     Roots then counters this more noisy, expressionistic side with examples of almost Zen-like simplicity and study. In this series, with works such as “Gathering My Thoughts,” “Pinball” and “Crane,” the artist’s markings are more of a minimalistic stab and stroke of black on white rather than Schmidt’s grand and gestural style.
     Each artist employs abstraction for the purpose of discovery and in the process indicates something also of their emotional state or state of mind respectively. Two additional works say much of their love of line and what it reveals of their individual style and POV. With “Miles to Go”, inspired by jazz musician Miles Davis, Schmidt’s journey is fittingly marked by breezy improvisation. In “Hanging by a Wire” Roots finds his way tenuously along a path of simple sketches and etches, both creating and deciphering the directions and runes as he goes.